Track Trek: Aerosmith & Run DMC—“Walk This Way”

By Alex Ryu, Feature Photo via Team Rock

Track Trek is an irregular retrospect review of forgotten tracks of various genres that deserve a second viewing, with an analysis that describes why it deserves so. Track Trek is written by Alex Ryu.

When and how do you remake or extend an original piece for the next generation? In a world that is now infatuated with remakes, reboots and sequels, it all boils down to the question of “Can they replicate the soul and message of the original – and then some?” In music, a cover version of a song is a new performance or recording of a previous recorded one done by a different artist rather than the original. Apart from different charting rules and copyright laws, cover songs have their benefits – they’re not just for new artists to get noticed and achieve initial success, but as a way to express themselves in ways that the original artist didn’t.

If a cover proves popular, it can often overtake the original as the dominant version of the recordings present – examples include Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Aretha Franklin’s cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” and sometimes forgotten, Gene Kelly’s cover of “Singing in the Rain.” But what about cover songs that aren’t necessarily better than the original, but present an entirely new perspective on the song?

In 1975, Aerosmith released the album Walk this Way, their third studio album and their most successful album in the United States. The success comes in part of their strong singles with “Toys in the Attic,” “Sweet Emotions,” and “Walk this Way” – the mainstays of the band’s discography. “Walk this Way” is arguably the single that made Aerosmith a household name. Known for its two measure beat drum intro kicking off the song followed by a guitar riff and bass composition layered with Steven Tyler’s rapid spitting lyrics about a certain high school moment with a heavy emphasis on the rhyming portion. The single became a top 10 single, and helped Toys In the Attic reach the 11th spot on the Billboard 200. The song continues to be a fan favorite, as it has been mostly part of their tour tracklists ever since. Little did they know that the song would be more than just a fan favorite…

In 1986, Run-DMC released their hip hop cover of the Aerosmith’s single. At the time, hip hop was not considered a mainstream genre and most hip hop songs regulated within the Underground community. The song was labeled a risky decision, considering that the group didn’t know who Aerosmith was at first or the fact that combining elements might alienate listeners of both sides. However, the song not only peaked at 4, 6 places higher than Aerosmith’s version, it was the first Hip Hop song to chart in the top 5 on the Billboard 100. This enabled hip hop to blend well with the mainstream pop culture, reminiscent of the days when sampling or covering rock songs were incorporated into funk songs (ex. Jimi Hendrix). In introducing the masses to the hip hop, it also pioneered the sung collaboration trend and the fusion genre rap/rock which led to the birth and higher recognition of other similar bands including Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and Faith No More. The song had benefits for Aerosmith too, as it marked a major comeback and solidified their comeback with the release of Permanent Vacation, their first success as a band in a decade. The cherry on the top was the iconic music video showcasing Run-DMC and Aerosmith breaking a wall between the two acts to complete their fusion and symbolically mark what is essentially the next step for both genres.

“Walk this Way” is one of the few singles that has become synonymous with the term “cover song” – one that not only outdid the original version, but also made its own mark in the process. It had a goal, heart, and the right tools at the right time to make the song more than just memorable. In a world infatuated with cash-in remakes, only those with soul stay along to walk this way.

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